Probe Fails to Support Cooper Claims

Times Staff Writer

Hoping to end a stay of execution for convicted murderer Kevin Cooper, state prosecutors said Tuesday that they had found no evidence proving Cooper’s assertions that others were responsible for the 1983 slayings of four people in a Chino Hills home.

Since the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the stay in February, San Bernardino County sheriff’s detectives have crisscrossed the nation interviewing witnesses and potential suspects that Cooper’s defense attorneys say could exonerate their client -- including one man turned in by a former girlfriend after she allegedly found his coveralls soaked in blood.

“We’ve done a lot of work on this because, frankly, we’re tired of the defense’s ongoing misrepresentations -- this attitude of theirs that we should be out there chasing our tails on every new thing they throw out there,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. Holly Wilkens.


David Alexander, Cooper’s defense attorney, ridiculed the attorney general’s investigation, portraying it as “more of an effort to protect the verdict than an effort to find the truth.”

The findings come on the eve of a federal court hearing in San Diego to determine whether additional tests are warranted on evidence found at the crime scene and whether prosecutors improperly withheld exculpatory evidence from Cooper’s attorneys during his murder trial.

In June 1983, Cooper escaped from the state prison in Chino and hid out in a vacant house within view of a hilltop home belonging to Douglas and Peggy Ryen. A jury in 1985 convicted Cooper of killing the Ryens, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old house guest Christopher Hughes with a buck knife and hatchet.

He also slit the throat of the Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Josh, who survived the attack and testified against him.

In 2002, Cooper became the first death row inmate to win approval for DNA testing of evidence. The tests, however, determined his DNA was on a bloody T-shirt found discarded near the Ryens’ home, on cigarette butts found inside the family’s stolen station wagon and on a blood drop inside their home.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recommended that additional DNA testing be conducted on the T-shirt to determine if police planted the evidence, which is alleged by Cooper’s attorneys. DNA testing also should be conducted on hairs found in the hands of Jessica Ryen, to determine whether they point to another suspect, the court ruled.


The case was sent to federal district court in San Diego for review. A three-day hearing, at which the judge is likely to order the testing, is scheduled to begin today.

Shoe Print Evidence

The federal judge also will determine if prosecutors failed to turn over shoe print evidence to Cooper’s defense attorneys during his original murder trial.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that prints from a Pro Keds Hi Dudes tennis shoe were found at the murder scene and that the brand was only sold to prisons and was worn by Cooper at the time of the slayings.

However, in a defense declaration filed shortly before Cooper’s scheduled execution, former Chino prison warden Midge Carroll said that shortly after the killings she told investigators that the Pro Keds shoes Cooper wore were available for public sale and not restricted to prisoners. Her interview was never turned over to the defense, Cooper’s attorneys alleged.

Wilkens dismisses the relevance of the allegation. She said Cooper testified during his trial that he wore the Pro Keds shoes on the night of the slayings. A Stride Rite shoe manufacturer and salesman also declared in a court filing that the cheap shoes were sold only to state and federal government agencies.

In preparation for the federal court hearing, sheriff’s detectives also investigated allegations by Cooper’s attorneys that the killings may have been committed by convicted felon Eugene Lee Furrow.


Furrow was implicated as a possible suspect by his ex-girlfriend, Diana Roper, who said he left behind “bloody coveralls” in his closet on the night of the murders.

Contacted in Pennsylvania, Furrow told detectives that Roper was angry at him for breaking off their relationship that night. Furrow said Roper learned while they were at the US Festival in Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore that he had become romantically involved with a friend of hers and that she had left him stranded after the concert. Furrow told police he hitchhiked back to Roper’s home in Mentone late that night.

Furrow said he wore a tank top and blue jeans that night and that when he reached Roper’s home, he boarded his motorcycle and left for San Diego with his new girlfriend riding on the back seat. Police said that a friend of Roper’s has confirmed that Furrow was stranded at the concert and that he was left to hitchhike back to Roper’s.

“It’s a soap opera, and when you look closely at it, you realize Diana Roper is a woman scorned, someone with no credibility,” Wilkens said.

Bloody Shirt at Bar

Detectives also re-interviewed several employees and patrons of the Canyon Corral bar.

In February, two women came forward and told Cooper’s defense team that they saw “men covered in blood” walk in on the night of the murders.

Detectives re-interviewed other witnesses who were at the Chino Hills bar that night, some of whom testified at Cooper’s trial. Those witnesses told police the bar was packed and there were a few disturbances among a group of men. One woman, an acquaintance of the women who came forward in February, said she saw one man who had a small bloodstain on his shirt, as if his nose had been bleeding.


“I’m gratified to see [prosecutors] coming back and refuting every little rumor the defense has thrown out,” said Mary Ann Hughes, Christopher Hughes’ mother. “The defense’s theories are never-ending, but [the prosecution] has gone through every one and proven there’s no substance to them.”